Idiot box? Only if you want it to be… Part 2

There’s an interesting article about The Slap by Peter Craven in today’s Oz:

TV’s The Slap is an imaginative translation of an invigorating love and pain story; of friends and family, of violations and betrayals, of making do and making out, and it is also its transfiguration.

The eight-part miniseries produced by Tony Ayres, among others, and directed by him along with Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville and Robert Connolly – each of the directors doing two episodes – is one of the most remarkable pieces of drama made for Australian TV.

At a time when the ABC is looking hapless in the face of the drama and comedy it has been showing, The Slap is compelling, filmic, superbly acted and passionately alive at every point.

The Slap is the story of what happens when, at a suburban barbecue in sunlit Brunswick, a man hits a child, an obstreperous misbehaving child, not his own, in the face. He’s a second-generation Greek Australian (played by Alex Dimitriades), the four-year-old’s mother (Melissa George) is a hippie-ish Anglo married to an unsuccessful heavy-drinking bit of a slob. The parents go ballistic, then go to the police.

The incident creates havoc in the circle of friends and family, some Greek, some not, who had gathered for the 40th birthday of the slapper’s cousin (Jonathan LaPaglia) in the house he shares with his wife, played by superb English actress Sophie Okonedo.

The Slap happens to be one of the most elaborate and richly orchestrated representations of the ethnic mix of contemporary Australia put together and it carries, as if it were incidental, that part of Tsiolkas’s mission with a subtlety and assuredness that the book can scarcely match.

The producers have found an extraordinary contingent of older Greek actors – led by the incomparable Toula Yianni as the matriarch – but this aspect of The Slap (which sometimes looks a bit dutiful in the novel) is done with a mimetic sparkle and with marvellous flashes in and out of Greek and with an overall effect approaching grandeur.

The heart of The Slap is its human portraiture, which is lingering and magnificent.

I agree with that, though I don’t share completely the reservations Peter Craven has about the book – see the rest of his review, but you can also see that line coming through in the part I have put in bold above. I would simply add that we won’t fully appreciate just how good this series is until we have seen it all – twice!

UPDATE: Go to the excellent interview on Compass.

Now to Q&A – or QandA. This show depends so much on the chemistry working at the time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Then you get the joke in The Hamster Wheel on Wednesday about it being the show where you get to ask the questions – the same question over and over and over again! Last Monday, however, was quite remarkable.

TONY JONES: Good evening and welcome to this special edition of Q&A, live from the Sydney Opera House and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. I’m Tony Jones and answering your questions tonight: legendary BBC foreign correspondent, Kate Adie; firebrand Marxist philosopher, Slavoj Zizek; the author of The Men Who Stare At Goats and The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson; Egyptian born democracy activist, Mona Eltahawy; and the foreign editor of The Australian Greg Sheridan. Please welcome our panel. All right. Well, Q&A is live from 9.35 pm Eastern Time. It’s simulcast on ABC News 24 and News Radio and you can join the Twitter conversation using the hash tag that’s just appearing on your screen. Well, our panel tonight includes some quite dangerous thinkers, so let’s go straight into peril with our first question from Stewart Lung…

In that company Greg Sheridan was Mr Dull and Boring, as well as Not Very Bright… After the silly stuff (Audience: ALP 36%, COALITION 46%, GREENS 12%) went up on the screen we all settled down for a great night and were not disappointed.

Slavoj Zizek  started well but the poor man does seem to suffer from what used to be called St Vitus’ Dance but is now Sydenham’s chorea. Unlike most people my age I have actually heard of Zizek, thanks largely to Vladimir Korotkov at South Sydney Uniting Church around five years ago. I see more recently he has been introducing him to the parishioners of Hobart’s Wesley Church. Beyond that I am not very familiar with his work and confess not to be thrilled with the theorising I dabbled in a bit some twenty years and more ago.

TONY JONES: Also you are pledged to Lady Gaga, or so they say.
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: This is a mystery. I am an old conservative who thinks everything that happened in pop music happened between ’65 and ’75. That’s another story. But, listen, you know we are entering a strange era where hedonism, do you know this, is more and more the ruling ideology. Today, society doesn’t pressure you onto sacrifice yourself to your country, but be authentic, be what you truly are and so on and so and my psychoanalytic friends are telling me that people today more and more feel guilty, not if they give way to their perverse desires but if you don’t enjoy. We live in strange times where, if you are not able to enjoy sexuality or whatever you feel guilty. So I think and that is the paradox today. We live in permissive times. The result is not everybody is happy screwing around – words – dirty words are permitted, you told me – the result is on the opposite. There is more frigidity/impotence than ever and so on and so on.
JON RONSON: Isn’t it true you advocate outsourcing sex so other people have sex on your behalf?
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Oh, this was – no, I’m quite romantic, here. That there is, unfortunately a bad taste joke. What I am advocating quite seriously…
JON RONSON: I thought it sounded like a great idea…

That I liked. But there were other exchanges that had my hackles rising, and Jon Ronson really said it for me at one point:

JON RONSON: Slavoj, in saying let’s not go detail, what you did with a wave of your hand was dismiss somebody who puts ideology over human life and human safety. It was despicable what Assange did to send out these documents and he was asked, wasn’t he, at one point "Well, what about the safety of the people that you named?" and he said, "Well, if they work for – I mean, I believe this is true. He said, well, if they work for the government, then they’re fair game". I mean that’s – to put ideology over life is a terrible thing and, you know, is this not what we are all doing here? Are we not just kind of reaching, you know, because of this kind of fetishisation of extreme ideological positions on television and in politics and so on? You know it’s, you know, the more respected somebody is, it relates to how ideological, how extreme their position is and, you know, this is a problem in our world, uncertainty and doubt.
TONY JONES: No. No. All right, but I just want to hear this…
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: (Indistinct)
TONY JONES: Fair enough.
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: I think the (indistinct) of life that you are using here is pure ideology.
SLAVOJ ZIZEK: I don’t have time to explain it but…

It simply irritates me too when something like The King’s Speech can’t be enjoyed for what it is because one is so busy finding it “reactionary” – which is just bollocks!

Here Zizek does get time, and so does Assange.

Nonetheless, what a brilliant Q&A it was!

Greg Sheridan was a sitting duck. (I typoed that as “sitting suck” and considered letting it stand.)

MONA ELTAHAWY: I cannot believe that you spew such nonsense as democracies tell the truth. How, based on what WikiLeaks showed, are you able to actually say that with a straight face? What WikiLeaks showed us is that these governments knew what was happening but they were so hypocritical and they did nothing and said nothing and continued to sell weapons…
GREG SHERIDAN: No, that’s not true.

The star for me though was Jon Ronson.